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Wednesday, 24 July, 2002, 12:53 GMT 13:53 UK
Saudi 'bomb' Britons launch appeal
Briton Sandy Mitchell, one of the five
The Britons were televised "confessing" to the bombings
Five Britons being held over bombings in Saudi Arabia are beginning an appeal against their convictions on Wednesday.

The five - who were sentenced to between five years and the death penalty - could be released "within weeks" according to their lawyer.

They are accused of being behind a series of anti-Western bomb attacks that the Saudis claim were part of a turf war over the bootlegging of alcohol in Saudi Arabia.


We will be pressing hard for their release, on the basis that they have not done it

Salah Al-Hejailan, lawyer

In a separate case a London businessman, Gary O'Nion's faces a sentence of 800 lashes for running an illegal drinking club- the first Briton to be flogged in Saudi Arabia for 17 years.

'Confessions' withdrawn

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Salah Al-Hejailan, lawyer for the five Britons, said: "We will be pressing hard for their release, on the basis that they have not done it, they are innocent and they have extracted their confessions."

Mr Al-Hejailan said there was only one prosecution witness, whose evidence is disputed.

Britons Sandy Mitchell, Les Walker, James Cottle and James Lee appeared on Saudi television with a Canadian and Belgian suspect apparently "confessing" to the bombings.

The four Britons were found guilty together with Peter Brandon, who did not appear.

All of the men later withdrew the confessions.

The men, part of an expatriate drinking scene in Riyadh, were arrested after a wave of bombings.

British engineer Christopher Rodway died in a car bomb explosion in November 2000 and several other Westerners have been injured since then.

The five Britons were all sentenced in secret proceedings in Saudi.

Dissidents

Mr Al-Hejailan said the men have been held for almost two years, one and a half of which has been in solitary confinement.

He said he hoped their release would be "within weeks", although they may be required to remain in Saudi for a short time afterwards.

He said the 11 September atrocities and further bomb attacks on Britons in Riyadh had strengthened their case.

"Although their case, on its own is quite strong," he added.

Last month British banker Simon Veness was killed in a car bomb explosion similar to that which killed Christopher Rodway.

There has been speculation that internal dissidents could be responsible for Mr Veness' death.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said it would not comment publicly on the case.

"We keep in close contact with the lawyers and will remain in contact with them and the families of the Britons," she added.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Eric Crockhart
"The men say their confessions were only made after beatings and threats"
See also:

30 Apr 02 | Middle East
30 Apr 02 | Middle East
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